Whoever told you that dining in Paris is expensive...pretty much told you the truth. It's exceedingly difficult as a traveler to find affordable dinner spots in Paris. Fortunately, I can let you in on a little secret: Lunch is where it's at.
If you want to gorge yourself on all of Paris's prizes (bread, amazing meats, cheese, and wine) for a fraction of the price, do so during the lunch hour. Most Parisian restaurants serve a prix fixe menu during the day, so diners can sop up the same quality of food for far less. Here are two recommendations that will give you both a taste of quality French food and a glimpse into how the locals live:
Bistrot Paul Bert should be anyone's introduction into French dining. The restaurant, which sits on a tiny side street in the Marais district, has not changed in 50 years. It is quintessential Parisian bistro. Chalkboards placed haphazardly around the dining room have the menu scrawled across them in almost illegible writing, the wine list is the size of a small novel, and you will not get out of there in under two hours.
A traditional prix fixe lunch at Bistrot Paul Bert will run you either 18 euro or 36 euro, depending on how many courses you choose. I went for the 18-euro menu, which includes an entrée (or an appetizer, as we say), a main, and a dessert course. The menu changes frequently, but to give you an idea, I began with oeufs en muerette, a favorite restaurant dish that translates to poached eggs in a red wine sauce. The dish comes in a tiny white pot with a lid, which is filled with a burgundy-colored sauce and chunks of tender mushrooms and a gauzy poached egg. Second I had the ubiquitous French thin cut of beef and traditional frites. Another at my table opted for the cut of lamb on top of a bed of celery puree, which we admittedly confused for mashed potatoes. Dessert was a choice between a soufflé and a cheese course, and being in Paris, I chose cheese. After a bottle of Bordeaux and a basket of bread you will be thankful that Parisians don't eat their next meal until long after 9pm. Bistrot Paul Bert can be found at 18 Rue Paul Bert.
Looking for nouveau Paris? I suggest taking a trip to the 11th arrondissement of the city, which is slowly turning into Paris's Brooklyn. A corner building with a turquoise facade gives way to La Pharmacie, a bistro turning out classic French dishes with a youthful twist. The interior of the restaurant is rustic country-meets-Parisian boudoir. Wooden tables and chairs are offset by dark red shelves stocked with local wines. The open kitchen is tiny and looks more like a small hearth, but the chef is back there cranking out hit after hit.
Again, the menu is subject to change, but I started with an appetizer of assorted smoked fish and moved on to a main course of grilled white fish and white rice. My companion opted for thinly sliced beef with a side of salad and potatoes. We split a bottle of Cote du Rhone and made it out of the restaurant without spending more than 30 euro total. La Pharmacie is at 22 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud.
Good to know: Tipping in Paris is not customary. You only tip your waiter or waitress if you received exceptional, over-the-top, name-your-first-child-after-him/her service.
What are some of your favorite budget-friendly restaurants in Paris?